What the SRA is Doing to Show More Commitment to Small UK Law Firms

Eager to dispel myths that the UK Solicitors Regulation Authority ("SRA") acts mainly in the interest of larger "high impact" commercial law firms, the SRA published its new initiative aimed at supporting small law practices at its second annual conference for compliance professionals in Birmingham yesterday (26 November 2014).

 

Acknowledging that small firms are an essential and valuable part of the regulated community in providing legal services to a wide range of consumers and that small firms make up a significant proportion of the regulated community, the SRA hopes that the Discussion Paper launched yesterday and the steady operational changes in the past are seen as important steps towards improving SRA's relationship with small firms.

 

The Regulator is asking its small law firm members to get involved by:

 

  • visiting the new small firms section of the website and giving feedback
  • contacting the new small firms helpline with regulatory questions and problems

  • responding to the Discussion Paper with further suggestions

  • joining the virtual reference group.

The Gist of the Initiatives in the Discussion Paper

 

  1. The creation of a new section for small firms in the SRA website which will include news, links and guidance specifically for small firms. There will also be an e-newsletter to help practitioners keep up with changes affecting them.
  2. The creation of a regulatory "Starter Pack" aimed at those setting up a new sole practice or small firm.
  3. An expression of intention to create a guidance pack to help small law firms that need to close.
  4. The introduction of a series of target-specific webinars to help small firms.
  5. An expression of intention to explore ways of combining efforts with The Law Society and practitioner groups to produce joint guidance on key issues.
  6. The inclusion of a dedicated service to small law firms who call the Professional Ethics helpline at 0370 606 2577. Those ringing the number will be given the option to be put through to an advisor with specialist knowledge of regulatory issues affecting small firms. Many of these advisors have worked in smaller firms themselves.
  7. An expression of intention to provide more advice so that small law firms can have ready access to such advice when needed and a swifter resolution of regulatory issues that arise.
  8. In early 2015 the Supervision Department of the SRA will also create a dedicated Small Firms Team to help bring the learning from the Regulatory Management programme currently available to large law firms to small firm issues.
  9. A continued commitment to make the authorisation process swifter and simpler for small law firms. The target turnaround of 30 days was previously introduced.
  10. The launching of a webinar aimed at the authorisation of small firms in early 2015 on the dedicated section of the website.
  11. An expression of intention to simplify the approval of compliance officer roles in small law firms through a possible mechanism of "deemed approval" system where the COLP/COFA is the sole practitioner or one of the lawyer managers in a two-four manager recognised body. This would save the need for a separate application and approval process.
  12. Acknowledging that the obtaining of Professional Indemnity Insurance ("PII") at a reasonable cost is a serious problem for some small firms, the SRA will consider further proposals for more proportionate PII requirements.
  13. Relooking at further ways to make the requirements in relation to obtaining and delivering accountants reports to the SRA simpler.
  14. A commitment to review the Handbook throughout 2015 with a view to implementing changes in 2016. The aim will be to reduce regulatory burdens, and to make the Handbook simpler and easier to use. The SRA will specifically consider how to make those improvements work for small firms.

What Next ?

 

The initiatives suggest that the SRA has refocused its lens and placed a greater importance to the agenda of small law firms.

 

The year 2015 will see fervent activity and reforms for small law firms in UK. The SRA has already committed to publishing a paper by April next year summarising the progress on the initiatives described, the feedback to the Discussion Paper, and the details of any further steps that it will take.

 

The full discussion paper is available here: http://www.sra.org.uk/sra/consultations/discussion-papers/small-firms.page

 

Endnotes:

 

  1. The definition of small firm adopted for the purposes of the Discussion Paper is; (a) a sole practitioner, or a firm with no more than four partners, members or directors; and (b) has an annual turnover of no more than £200,000; and (c) has no more than 10 PC holders.
  2. http://www.sra.org.uk/smallfirms
  3. https://forms.sra.org.uk/s3/sfgroup
  4. http://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/code-of-conduct/guidance/guidance/Sole-Practitioners-and-Small-firms-regulatory-starter-pack.page
  5. Compliance Officers for Legal Practice ("COLPs") and for Finance and Administration ("COFAs")
  6. This is in addition to the Call for Evidence exercise which closed on 30 September 2014 - http://www.sra.org.uk/sra/consultations/client-protection-call-evidence.page

 

Sangeet Kaur



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